Wichita’s food desert growing with Save A Lot closure

Wichita City Council and Sedgwick County Commission take a look at how to provide access to food and give local producers more options to sell locally.
Published: Jun. 22, 2021 at 5:14 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Wichita’s food desert is growing with Save A Lot announcing plans next month to close its grocery store at 13th and Grove. The store is closing in an area of northeast Wichita where easy access to fresh and healthy food at the store is already a challenge. It’s an issue that has city and county leaders looking at different approaches and options.

The concern with food deserts is an issue all around the city, not just in the northeast Wichita neighborhood soon to lose the Save A Lot. There’s enough of a concern for the city of Wichita and Sedgwick County leaders to look at what is called a Food System Master Plan, which looks to find ways for consumers to get their hands on healthier and fresh food options and area producers more avenues into the local market.

Neighbors near 13th and Grove say losing access to their nearby grocery store will make life more difficult.

“We’ll be officially a food desert around here because you have to go so far to get anything,” said Save A Lot customer Clive Rob Williams Jr.

Williams Jr. said his church is taking a particular interest in a possible solution. He would like to see more community investment, not national chains.

“When (bigger chains) decide to pull out, they could pull out that easy, but if the neighborhood is sustaining itself with neighborhood stores, neighborhood commerce...”

That’s the path Wichita Vice Mayor Brandon Johnson wants to see.

“A lot of need there and I think these smaller models can really help out throughout the food desert,” he said of the area near 13th and Grove, an area which he represents on the Wichita City Council.

On Tuesday, June 22, in a joint meeting of Wichita City Council members and Sedgwick County commissioners, local leaders got an update on a Food System Master Plan.

“There’s lots and lots of interest in local food systems, bot from a healthy food access and a local food production standpoint,” said K-State Research and Extension Sedgwick County Horticulture Agent Rebecca McMahon.

A key part of the plan is a Farm and Food Council comprised of producers, retailers and other groups. The council will work to find innovative ways to address needs and what resources are available to assist.

“Heard a lot of headlines about our food deserts and access to full-service grocery stores,” McMahon said. “So that’s a big challenge. Then, also just economic development opportunities for our local producers.”

The plan still needs to be approved by the city council and county commission.

The plan looks long-term at how to access and production within the county. It also looks at things like transportation access and infrastructure needs like freezers and refrigerators for expanded access to food banks.

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows there are food deserts in neighborhoods all around Wichita. Those are areas with low-income households that don’t have a full-service grocery store within one mile for those living in cities and up to 10 miles in rural areas. This data doesn’t include ethnic or smaller corner grocery and convenience stores.

“Steps we’ve taken thus far haven’t worked. We are starting to find more entrepreneurs interested, so hopefully, we can get them contacted with recourses,” Johnson said.

Johnson said while the Food System Master Plan will help plan for the future and lay the groundwork, there are also steps the city can take with ordinances to make it easier for people to get food.

Johnson said to solve something like this needs multiple stores and multiple ways to solve the issue.

“‘Both and’ approach. We know that there are city ordinances that we need to look at that maybe will help people grow and sell produce from their homes. Right now, I don’t think you can legally do that, so what can we do to remove those barriers. Look at policies to see if there’s any barriers around having farmer market opportunities in the community. Not just downtown,” Johnson said.

The Wichita vice mayor said more farmers and mobile markets are other aspects that can be looked at.

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